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Are the horror stories about car rental in Iceland true?

Strictly speaking you are not allowed to drive in this condition according to the small print of many local car rental companies. PIC Tom Olliver

Strictly speaking you are not allowed to drive in this condition according to the small print of many local car rental companies. PIC Tom Olliver

Quite a lot of discussions on the worldwide web regarding car rental agencies in Iceland and many of the stories are not very flattering to locals. Team Total Iceland has received a question about car rental in Iceland asking if the stories about the companies cheating people out of their money is true or not.

The old adage; where there is smoke there is fire holds true in this case. Had the car rental agencies offered real and friendly service in the past there would most likely not be so many horror stories out there. Then again, service is not something the average Icelander is born with while greed is ingrained in many.

Total Iceland has before recommended hiring a car from one of the lesser known local companies. Their prices are more often than not considerably lower than the big name agencies and in some cases they don´t even offer brand new cars all the time. In other words, the older the car the less it is buy insurance and extra insurance and windshield insurance and ash insurance and sand insurance and etc….

What next? Snow insurance?

A car rental company offering ash and sand protection insurance four years ago would have been ridiculed but now everyone does it. But sand has been blowing in Iceland from the beginning of time and neither are ash particles a particularly new phenomena on this volcanic island. What next? Snow insurance?

In any case, you are offered this extra insurance if you are driving the Westfjords where neither sand- nor ash storms happen.

The small print on webpages of many a car rental agencies here tell of “considerable” damage from driving through sand- og ash storms that form especially in the South of Iceland. This is untrue. It might get dirty and yes, even a small scratch too but “considerable” damage to a car is pretty serious condition.

Gravel protection sounds reasonable for a visitor. After all, roads in Iceland are horrible all over and many of those are simple gravel roads. But locals have been driving here for decades and you may look well and hard before you see many cars of the common man here dented or scratched.

This said, there is always the possibility of a broken front window from flying gravel and on average it is better to be safe than sorry.

Another insurance to skip is the theft protection in our opinion. Perhaps two or three cars are lifted in Iceland every week outside of the Reykjavik area. Few dare steal a car elsewhere since it will be easily spotted. But then again this insurance is not very expensive.

Johan is pissed and regretting visiting Iceland in wintertime

26 thoughts on “Are the horror stories about car rental in Iceland true?

  1. Hi there,

    I have recently had some real trouble with Geysir Car Rental in Iceland.

    When booking the car I was offered a SCDW (CDW was already included) and also Gravel Protection. I opted for Gravel Protection as their website advised it and it didn’t cost much more.

    When I picked up the car I was give only two pieces of advice: Do not smoke in the car, and do not drive off road. I abided by both of these rules.

    One day we drove from Flúðir (where we were staying) to visit Þjóðveldisbærinn on route 32. During this drive we were hit with very strong winds which were picking up gravel and hitting the car, however there was no shelter anywhere so we continued to our destination, and then drove back again. We were concerned about the car but we knew we had Gravel Protection so we believed that it would cover any damage that this gravel may have caused.

    We were wrong. When we returned our car to Geysir on April 16th we were told that this damage was called “sandblasting” (caused by sand and ash rather than gravel) and that it was uninsurable by any insurance company in Iceland so we would have to pay for it. I pointed out that the damage was clearly caused by gravel as the surface of the paint remained glossy, but with chips in it, whereas from sandblasting you would expect a completely matted surface.

    The employee told us that we would have to pay the maximum possible price for the repairs which turned out to be an astonishing €4500! Of course I contested this and asked what would happen if I refused to pay – I was told that the police would be called. I had a plane to catch and could not afford to incur any further costs. The employee said that my travel insurance should cover it, so I called my travel insurance company. They told me that it is very rare for a travel insurance policy to cover a rental vehicle as usually the car is covered by the insurance purchased with the rental car through the rental company…

    I could not afford this on my own (I am a recent graduate), so I handed over all of my cards to the employee, he took everything he could from my bank accounts (one card bounced, two completely maxed out by him – a total of €1400), that was everything I had, my brother had nothing to offer except ISK to the sum of €200. So I called my girlfriend and my other brother and his girlfriend, between us we only just managed it. All left completely broke.
    The employee said that he would get an estimate from the paint shop the following day and that we would almost certainly receive a partial refund as the cost of repair would not be that much…
    …Two days later, back in England, I received an email from Geysir telling me that the paint shop estimate was in fact €6402!!! Of course I refused to pay any more than the initial €4500 that we were promised would be the maximum cost.

    Since then I have been researching and have discovered that in fact most car rental companies in Iceland DO have cover for Sand and Ash damage, available as an optional damage waiver, or even included in the Gravel Protection… And since then I have also discovered (on Geysir’s Facebook page) an album of photographs of a car damaged by sand and ash – the damage in Geysir’s photos clearly show that the car’s paint is no longer glossy and is completely matt. COMPLETELY different from the damage my car sustained! So it appears I have been lied to twice and that the damage to my car was in fact Gravel damage, which I was protected for! I’ve told this to Geysir and they won’t respond to me.

    I’ve contacted the European Consumer Centre, The Icelandic Consumer Association, my credit card company, the Icelandic tourist board, and no one is replying to my emails. I then contacted The Times newspaper, they were interested and are running an article this Saturday (1st June) about the pitfalls of car rental in foreign countries. They have contacted Geysir about this article and to ask some questions about it and they of course instantly replied! Yet not to me!

    The Times: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/money/consumeraffairs/article3779762.ece


    • hi,
      i have the same situation ….
      i passed sandstorm and rent-car company wants from me a lot of money for repair the damages.
      they said 10 cars was sandblasted only in dollar-trifity company during last sandstorm on 15.09.2013 and about 100 cars total in Iceland.
      pls advise what shall i do ?

    • Please keep in mind, Total Iceland, that when you are presenting yourself as advisors you need to be very knowlegdeable about the subject.
      The fact is that there is a clear difference between Gravel Protection and Sand and Ash Protection. These are different insurances to cover different circumstances. Simply, Gravel P. covers rocks trown at the car by other cars on gravel roads, and Sand and A. covers sandstorms, which are a nature events.
      It is naive for travellers in Iceland to think the nature and the elements are just the same as in their home countries. Just about everything is different in Iceland. It is therefore that insuraces are offered that may be different and foreign to people coming from most other countries. These insurances are ment to cover travellers from known occurrances to their benefit. Not to hurt them financially. A typical case in point are exactly the stories here below. It is therefore clear that travellers in Iceland should educate themselves about driving in Iceland and heed all the warnings they will get, and buy the insurances they can get. Driving in Iceland is NOT like driving at home!

  2. i actually run a small rental and was horrified to read the 1st response from geysir rental. as i understand it there is a default cdw which is usually around 200,000isk to 300,000isk which covers the event of the loss of a vehicle as long as it wasn´t being operated outside of the rental conditions. there is no way that driving through a sandstorom/ashstorm (same thing…) would be considered outside of the normal rental conditions unlike driving drunk or driving a yaris through sprengisandur or through a river. holy crap, i just went through geysir´s terms and conditions (i had to google it as i couldn´t find a link from the homepage) and ash and sand damage is indeed not covered by the insurance! i´m not sure any other company has this in their terms and conditions but yeah, talk about small print. when i´ve had issues with damage people have been very honest and i´ve charged them what it actually cost me to fix the car and 6400€ is nowhere near how much it costs to paint a car. maybe the car was painted with pure gold?

    anyway, one small thing in the article i´d like to correct and that is that ash/sand does indeed to damage – i thought it didn´t at the start but one of my cars is definitely a matt colour now as it´s been damaged all over, including the glass…

    • Hi James

      Yeah, sand and ash can certainly do damage to a vehicle but you do not pay extra for sand protection in the Sahara. Without being experts we know ash storms are a thing of the past now and sand storms in Iceland are very rare and hardly ever do damage. We believe this was called for right after the Eyjafjallajokull eruption but now it is just an excess charge.

  3. With reading these comments. Should one avoid Geysir when renting a vehicle? I found really good deal with them, and wondering if it really will be a good deal in the long run?

    • Hi Simon

      True enough Geysir car rental is known for some weird moves once in awhile but it is also true they do offer very competitive prices. Go ahead and rent but read the fine print carefully, take photos of car beforehand and drive carefully.

  4. This is driving me mad. I intend hiring a car in 2 weeks. Some companies still do not offer gravel/ash protection others do. Prices all over the place. ISAK do not offer with land rovers, AVIS seem never to have heard of it. I always insure all excesses with car hire as I am terrified of the sort of ordeal described at the top of this stream but it appears that the hire companies make it up as they go along. I almost wish I hadn’t bothered.

    • Hi Mark

      Yeah, there is gold rush mentality all over this place and therefore reliable info is hard to find. Just book wherever you feel appropriate and then ask hard questions on-site when picking up the vehicle. Take photos of car before rental in case and read all the fine print before taking the wheel. You should be fine. Most rentals here are not a problem.
      Hope this helps

  5. Last summer i rented a car with geyser! At the airport i notice that the engine light was on, but the asistance told me dont worry about that… The true is that the car break off between landmanalaugar and kirkjuvaerjauclaustur. But the worse, was that the asistance manager didnt assist us correctly the day before when we were at landmanalaugar and i told him that the car was not going well. He should say us to stay there waiting for the replacement vehicle… But he suggest me to go to kirkjuvaerjauclaustur… He didnt tell me that there was 22 rivers to cross for going there….

    The next day he gave us a smaller car empty of fuel and he told me that I borke the car because i was driving very fast on the puddles and also said that I was a bad father because i did that with my little daughter!! He was so rude.

    Avoid geysir car rental. The cars are old, and the asistence is very bad.

  6. I’m about to go on a holiday to Iceland and have rented a car from Blue Car Rentals. They offer Sand and Ash Protection, but it seems to me to be rather expensive, and with a big excess. I quote: “By purchasing SAAP the self risk in case of damage from sand and ash is lowered to
    150.000 ISK. We offer the SAAP for 1.500 ISK per day.”

    So the excess is about £800 and the cost is about £7.90 a day – which adds up to over £100 for a fortnight’s holiday. Is this typical?

    Do independent brokers offer Sand and Ash Insurance?

  7. Another thing. At what sort of wind speeds is sand and ash airborne? I plan to watch the forecast before travelling to the South, it would be handy to have an idea what strength of wind can cause problems.

    • Hi Charles

      Strictly speaking you only have to worry about sand/ash while driving below the big glaciers in the South of the country. Vatnajokull, Myrdalsjokull, Solheimajokull. Wind speeds do not have to be very high for the sand to move (6 to 7 m/s) but the main thing is wind direction. Only when winds from North over the highland is there genuine possibility of storms forming.

      As for the rental agencies keep in mind Sadcars offers used vehicles and often very worn. No idea why they would even contemplate wind/ash protection but for greed. Most of their cars have seen better days anyway.

  8. Thanks a lot for the advice. Does wind from a southerly direction not also create sandstorms from the extensive coastal sandurs, such as Skeidararsandur and Myrdalssandur?

    • In Iceland nothing is impossible. Sure, there is a possibility but by and large the main hazard is from high speed winds from North or Northeast. None of the team can remember facing a sandy storm coming from the sea in decades of driving. But again, stranger things have happened.

  9. Joan Morrissey

    We rented from Sixt, bought all the insurance and had no problems at all. We went on gravel roads and across rivers. We were sure we’d hit a rock but all was well when we left the car back.

  10. Hi everyone
    Thank you all for your advices and helpful info. Actually I m quit frustrated to search in the www the last few days by finding so many horror rental stories. To realize that seems to be a bit of roulette to rent a car in Iceland, a few questions are left I hope to get a good imput of you.

    1: Are there sandstorms in Winter? I will drive to Jökularson in the middle of January. So till now I assumed that this Insurance is not relevant.

    2: I got 3 companies after going through most of the rental website:

    – Icerental4X4.is
    – carsiceland.com
    – carrentaliceland.com

    Does someone know more about theme? Experiences?
    I can not find any Information about theme.
    Thank you very much for your appericiated opinions!

  11. I have another horror story to add to the ever growing list.

    I rented a car from Fox Rent a Car. I found what I thought would be a great deal through Priceline.com– $220 for 5 days. I was picked up from the airport by Atak– I suppose the Icelandic version of Fox Rent a Car. The woman working Fox Rent a Car did very little explaining of anything– perhaps because it was 5am local time? She offered me CDW protection, which I declined since I get it through my credit card. She then offered me gravel protection– explaining that a lot of the roads in Iceland are gravel. I decided to pay for it, just in case. I added a GPS as well, which I thought I had already included in the quoted $220 price. She then showed us a paper with all the dents and scratches that were already on the car and had us initial it. I made sure to go outside and take pictures before initialing it. There were a number of dents and scratches, but no big deal. We had a VW Gulf in a silver/grey color.

    I paid with my credit card, was asked to sign the rental agreement. And that was that. We took a map and were gone. We drove a number of miles– we experienced gravel roads, snow storms in Snaefells Penninsula, and crazy wind/sand storms in the south. It was quite an experience. Luckily, I naively believed, there was no damage done to the car. The day before returning the rental car, we even took it to get a wash.

    When we returned the car we were in a bit of a rush because we were 20 minutes late after searching for a gas station to refill the tank. Luckily, it seemed, there was no issue. After going around the car like a hawk, the same woman who had started our rental 5 days previously asked “Were you in the South on Monday?” I said yes, I believe, not remembering the exact day. She then went back to her office and came out with a little cloth. She started rubbing the car and then announced to us, “There’s been damage to the car. There was a wind storm. You have Sand and Ash damage.” Sand and Ash damage? Yes to the sand, we were caught in a windstorm! She showed us the left light and I could see fine dots in it as well as on the front bumper. Okay, thinking nothing of it– you couldn’t see a thing wrong with the car, this was just a superficial “damage”. Our insurance should cover it.

    However, when we headed inside, she announced that the damage totaled 340,000 krona and wasn’t covered because we hadn’t taken out sand and ash coverage. Roughly, $2,500. WHAT THE HELL?! She said that the entire car would need to be repainted, apparently there was damage to the bumper, bonnet, lights, mirrors, front windshield, side doors, etc.

    She had never even told us that sand damage was a possibility– let alone that they offered sand and ash protection– for the exact same price as the gravel protection, which I would have happily paid if I knew it existed! She argued that she had told us about it and that it was on a Driving in Iceland info sheet she gave us. I swear on all things holy that she never told us about it. She never even gave us that driving info sheet which she claimed to have! I asked how would I know if this supposed ‘damage’ existed previously and she said if it had she would have drawn a giant S on the damage sheet. How can you trust this? I did see the light and front bumper sanding but only after she pointed it out. I demanded to speak with the manager and he was incredibly rude. He claimed he knew she told us about the Sand and Ash protection because he trained her himself. I said, were you here and I didn’t see you? Because she most certainly did not tell us about it. Why would I have purchased gravel protection and not sand and ash as well, if it was a possibility? I tried to keep my composure because I tend to cry when angered but alas, that did not last long. I felt forced to pay– I had to catch my flight. I had no idea what could be done. She even tried to claim she was giving us a discount because they were going to go through their friend. SERIOUSLY?!

    Having the night to process, I am still so stunned. The car was not in perfect condition! There were huge scratches on the back, which they clearly did not fix. There were dents all along the side doors and in the front and back. Why am I being charged all of this money for superficial painting? If the car was brand new that would be a bit more understandable– but only a bit more. She claimed the car would not be drivable… just unbelievable.

    Hopefully, I will be able to file a dispute through my credit card company. Since I just got back to the US today, I am not sure. All I know is that this horrific experience left a seriously bitter taste in my mouth and, unfortunately, has definitely dimmed my memories of the amazing Iceland.

    • we just got back from iceland as well, after renting with atak… similar thing. our first car had a pre-existing problem which didn’t become obvious until our second day when the driver’s door wouldn’t stay closed… plus our GPS device was faulty. of course they accused us of damaging the car, but we said we didn’t do anything. they swapped out the car with a different one that night, which had a huge dent the size of the entire driver’s side door, but forgot to bring the new GPS… so we had to waste time making a second trip to the office the next day. upon returning both cars, no one from atak said we were being charged for the damage. 3 days after returning home, they sent me an email saying “upon further inspection” we found damage that you must’ve caused and they charged our credit card an additional $1038.00. i’m disputing the charges as well. such a scam… they ALL seem to be doing it. i purposely avoided hertz because i’d seen similar stories posted before we went… but atak is just as bad.

  12. Before going to Iceland, I noticed the complaints about Hertz re: bogus damage charges being charged to many, many renters, so I purposely chose another company. The Reykjavik Tourism website said Atak was known for new cars in good condition and good service. The first car we rented seemed fine, but the GPS kept flashing low battery… as we drove the car the next day out, we kept noticing a whistling sound (and the GPS continued flashing low battery even though we had it charging constantly). We thought a window hadn’t been rolled up all the way, or that it was just an inexpensive car (Suzuki) so not really airtight. In the afternoon, we were out sightseeing – 3 hours from our hotel with our three children in the car – and my husband could not get the driver side door to close. We phoned Atak and they accused us of damaging the car. We told it must’ve been a pre-existing damage that after opening/closing the door a few times, finally gave way. We asked them to replace the car and GPS. We finally got the door to close and lock and made our way back to the hotel in Reykjavik, where they came with a different rental car (this time, the car had a giant dent the size of the entire driver side door) They forgot to bring a new GPS, so made a separate trip to the Atak office in Reykjavik to get a new one the next day. At no point did Atak say we were being charged for the damage; they didn’t have us sign any paperwork as such; and never repeated accusations that we did it. When we returned the second car at the end of our trip, the women at the counter were super nice and didn’t mention a thing about damage charges. Three days after returning home, I received an email saying “upon further inspection of the car” they found damage we must’ve been responsible for, and saying they’d charged us an additional $1038.00… I have since seen similar stories of several other rental car companies in Iceland. This seems to be a scam by many of the companies… they must be making out very well if they are getting $200 to $4000 extra from most every booking. NO MATTER WHO YOU RENT FROM, BE CAREFUL AND INSPECT YOUR RENTAL CARS WITH AN EAGLE EYE BEFORE SIGNING THE CONDITION REPORT AND DRIVING OFF. Such a shame after a nice visit to a very interesting country.

    • Another one to add to your list. Do not rent through HASSO car rental! I just returned 3 weeks ago from a trip to Iceland. I do admit that some of the damage was mine. I washed the car!!! When I did, I must have scratched the dirt into the door. This is the only thing I could think of because I do not know if it was there before or not. Mind you, I never noticed this until I took the car back and they pointed it out. They took 2000 Euros off my card. They said they would get it fixed and refund me the difference. After 2 weeks I had not heard a word (they said they would get back to me in a couple of days). They ended up charging me 1200 EURO for one door panel to be painted. It was surface scratched. I have asked for a copy of the insurance report, the insurance company’s name, the insurance details themselves, the gravel protection plan (which I took out) , the name of the company where the repairs were done and they refuse to give me any of this information. Worse thing is I had booked and paid for a car through SIXT and read such bad reports about them doing just the same thing so I cancelled the booking and the same things happens! Do your research and be very careful who you book with!

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